A recent comment on my IKEA entry refers to the famous story that the Chevrolet Nova sold badly in Latin America because Nova means no va (‘doesn’t go’). This is a legend, and there are a number of other translation legends. It is debunked in detail on the Snopes Urband Legends pages.
bq. … the phrase “no va” (literally “doesn’t go”) and the word “nova” are distinct entities with different pronunciations in Spanish: the former is two words and is pronounced with the accent on the second word; the latter is one word with the accent on the first syllable. Assuming that Spanish speakers would naturally see the word “nova” as equivalent to the phrase “no va” and think “Hey, this car doesn’t go!” is akin to assuming that English speakers woud spurn a dinette set sold under the name Notable because nobody wants a dinette set that doesn’t include a table.
bq. This is another one of those tales that makes its point so well just like the apocryphal one about George Washington and the cherry tree that nobody wants to ruin it with a bunch of facts. Nonetheless, we’re here to ruin it.
Just a minute – the story about George Washington and the cherry tree is untrue?! But I learnt that at junior school…
I realize I am risking attracting a lot more comments with other translation myths in them. Recounting translation (and machine translation) myths is a popular activity that can get rather boring.